Motherhood and careers

I have read writings from some Catholic authors who state that a mother should not be employed full time outside of the home, unless it is out of necessity for the family (e.g financial). I have also read teachings from a previous pope (I forget the name) who emphasized that a mother’s role is in the home.

In contrast to the above, I have read view points from other Catholics (including on this forum) who believe mothers can choose to seek employment outside of the home, provided that family duties are not neglected.

I have always had questions about this issue, particularly when mothers choose to seek a Full time career, not out of necessity, but out of ambition.

Are there any teachings on this? I see Amy Coney Barrett is a strong career woman and a mother to a large family. This has come as a surprise to me, as I thought the mother needs to be the primary carer of her children (in this case she will need to be at home and not resort to other child care arrangements unless it’s necessary).

Was one of them a certain priest named Fr. Ripperger? He seems to be the main proponent of this business nowadays. Regardless of who it’s coming from, it’s the person’s opinion, and not the teaching of the Church.

The Church doesn’t tell women what they can and can’t do with their lives. Mothers AND fathers have a responsibility to care for their children. The mother is not “required” to be the primary carer.

There are Catholic saints who were mothers and put their kids in the care of others and went off to join religious orders and be missionaries. Nowadays, our social structure does not allow parents to just leave their children in the care of a monastery or whatever, and mothers with children would probably not be admitted to religious orders, but these ladies are still saints of the Church.

There are also Catholic saints who were career women as well as mothers, the leading example being St. Gianna Beretta Molla who was a doctor.


“Some Catholic authors” say a lot of nonsensical things. It sells books and ads on their websites and blogs and podcasts.

There is no Catholic teaching that says this. Both parents share in the role as primary caregiver raising their children. And, outside help and caregiving is not against Church teaching.


Let’s think about it this way:

  1. Catholic teaching does not allow artificial BC. It is fairly likely that a Catholic married couple who follows this strictly will end up with a fairly large number of children.
  2. If a mom has a large number of children, and is having to take time of for maternity leave every other year or so, not to mention probably trying to breastfeed an infant, it adds up to a lot of leaves / missed work time.
  3. Probably the only moms who can make this work are ones who are making a pretty high salary like a doctor, lawyer, executive, etc. At some point moms who don’t make as much probably realize “hey, I’m being run ragged, daycare is taking away a huge chunk of the paycheck”, etc.
  4. The question becomes “what is necessary financially?”. If you’re trying to pay Catholic school tuition, etc. that second paycheck starts to seem more essential!

Proverbs 31 talks about this:

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.

14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.

15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.

17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.

19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.

20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.

30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.


There are many non-US countries where maternity AND paternity leave of long duration is normal. I have work colleagues in places like Bulgaria and Germany who have been out of work for very extended periods (we’re talking a year) with new offspring. USA is more hung up on “missed work time” than a lot of other places.

It’s also not a given that every couple who doesn’t use artificial birth control is going to have a “fairly large number of children”. There are quite a few couples who don’t use artificial birth control and only have one or two children, often because of medical reasons or because they married later in life.

In any event - the Catholic Church does not teach that women must be primary caregivers to children above and before all else, nor does it teach that married women cannot or should not work outside the home except in cases of financial necessity. Period, final. It’s up to each couple to decide how they’re going to live their lives as Catholics. There is no mandate, and other people’s opinions also do not govern.

I’m sure someone will want to argue with me on this, so I’m taking my leave of the thread now.


Plenty of moms with low-middle paying jobs are making this work though. In fact, they had to throughout history. They have their extended family to rely on, as well as the husband also taking time off when needed, paid maternity leave etc.

This is not to say that it’s not challenging, women still lose out more, but it’s the norm now in many countries with more affordable daycare and paid maternity/paternity leave.

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There are vast differences in competencies between women. Some can handle a full time job and take care of kids, and some would rather focus on being home. It really depends on how you handle your children, what your children need, and what your husband is able to help with. To each his own.


The Church seems pretty consistent on this.

Here are some modern sources:

Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno

Mothers, concentrating on household duties, should work primarily in the home or in its immediate vicinity. It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father’s low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children.

Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes:

The children, especially the younger among them, need the care of their mother at home. This domestic role of hers must be safely preserved, though the legitimate social progress of women should not be underrated on that account.

St. John Paul II, Laborem Exercens

It will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother-without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalizing her as compared with other women-to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age. Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother.

Note, it is considered a societal abuse when a mother must take up work outside the home, not a fault in the mother who must do so. Obviously it’s a different story when it is done for selfish reasons to the neglect of her proper duties. Likewise, as noted, these duties can vary with the age of the kids. In any event, all parents need to do what’s best for their kids given the circumstances they find themselves in, whatever that may be.


I am not going to disagree with others who have set out the Church’s teaching perfectly accurately. This is a topic about which I expect that people have their own opinions, often quite strongly held.

My wife and I have a large family and always took the view that it is first and foremost the role of the mother to look after the children. This is to some extent dictated by the fact that the mother can breastfeed the babies, which we always felt suggested that she was the one who ought to be at home caring for them for most of the time. We also think that it is the more natural role of the man to protect and provide for his family.

When people ask whether my wife “works”, I always say she has always worked: being a wife and a mother is work. We own quite a lot of land, keep some animals, and run our own business, so my wife has always had a role in that. She’s never been a “housewife”. To my mind a “housewife” is probably somewhat specific to middle-class women in western countries around the middle of the 20th century. I like to think that we follow a more traditional lifestyle, a lifestyle in which the whole family lives and works together for the common good. I am mostly occupied on the land and running the family business, my wife is mostly occupied with the children and the home, the children are mostly occupied with education until they are grown up, but I also do childcare and cooking and so on, my wife also works on the business, the children help out with whatever they can when they’re not busy learning.


Well, if we are talking about the USA (since Catholic Answers is based in the USA, and I would think a majority of posters are based in the USA as well), I think we can imagine how “hung up” on missed work time a company would be if a mother (or father) were taking three months of parenting leave every other year or so.
I have relatives in Canada, and I have been told that there is some “secret” discrimination of women who might indicate that they are going to have a child, since the Canadian leave policies are so generous, and the company might not want to lose a new hire for a year or so. It’s illegal, but apparently it happens.

That’s rather disingenuous, isn’t it? I wonder what the average marriage age of Catholics is. If I go to a parish where the parishioners seem fairly “hardcore” (rather than average American cafeteria Catholics) about Catholic teaching, the families end to be larger.
In fact, for decades, (or probably since ABC become mainstream) large Catholic families have been kind of a standing joke. You can’t pretend that Catholics aren’t known for having large families. Even Pope Francis made a statement that Catholics don’t have to breed like rabbits.

Okay, take your toys and go home. : )


If a pope writes something in an encyclical, what does it mean?
Pope Pius XI spoke about working mothers in his encyclical Casti Connubii , which was promulgated on the last day of 1930 (all emphases are from the blogger):

The same false teachers who try to dim the luster of conjugal faith and purity do not scruple to do away with the honorable and trusting obedience which the woman owes to the man. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity, that the rights of husband and wife are equal; wherefore, they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected. This emancipation in their ideas must be threefold, in the ruling of the domestic society, in the administration of family affairs and in the rearing of the children. It must be social, economic, physiological: – physiological, that is to say, the woman is to be freed at her own good pleasure from the burdensome duties properly belonging to a wife as companion and mother (We have already said that this is not an emancipation but a crime); social, inasmuch as the wife being freed from the cares of children and family, should, to the neglect of these , be able to follow her own bent and devote herself to business and even public affairs; finally economic, whereby the woman even without the knowledge and against the wish of her husband may be at liberty to conduct and administer her own affairs, giving her attention chiefly to these rather than to children, husband and family.

I doubt that many women worked outside the home for 40+ a week, week in and week out. I think it’s more likely that they did a few hours here and there, perhaps, but not 40 hours, plus 5 lunch hours, plus commuting time.
Extended family helps for sure, but not everyone has that available.
Again, the USA does not have these policies of affordable daycare and longer parenting leaves.

Assuming this is accurate, it looks like the pope is condemning the opinions in bold. Women and men have duties in married life, especially when their children are concerned.

They may not have their standard 9-5, but they certainly worked long hours depending on the nature of their jobs. The idea that women stayed at home to care for the children is rather recent and was often the result of being privileged enough to do so.

That’s my point…surely that has to change. Motherhood is already seen as a burden in countries with such aid.

The condemnation of working mothers in the religious circles is often rather American-centric. Public education school sucks, so they’re more likely to push for home schooling. Daycare is expensive and often not optimal (e.g. Poor-student ratio), so they talk about how harmful it is. So imo it seems like a lot of their criticism about working moms are simply because their alternative is usually worse (and they usually don’t support improving these conditions through policy), rather than being a working mom in itself.

Of course, there are people who just buy into traditional gender roles and think that women have to stay at home-either because they genuinely believe that’s what the Church teaches, or because they know it’s the easiest way for the man to assume authority since he’s the breadwinner.



The Church does not teach that women can only work out of grave necessity or injustice. And rather than focusing on real life examples of people and whether their situation is OK or not OK, I would rather present what I believe to be the Church teaching, generally.

It seems to me, though I am not a theologian, that the totality of Church teaching on this subject should be thought as follows: wives and mothers cannot neglect their duties as wives and mothers, but if these needs are met, they are permitted to work and society should structure itself so that this option is made available to women if this is freely chosen and not chosen by societal or economic pressures.

Why do I say this?

The past Magisterial documents from the Popes do make references to women staying at home/working near home, but about half of the time this seems to be qualified with a statement along the lines of “so that her duties as mother and wife are not neglected”.

Consider Casti Connubii (Pope Pius XI, 1930):

(We have already said that this is not an emancipation but a crime); social, inasmuch as the wife being freed from the cares of children and family, should, to the neglect of these, be able to follow her own bent and devote herself to business and even public affairs; finally economic, whereby the woman even without the knowledge and against the wish of her husband may be at liberty to conduct and administer her own affairs, giving her attention chiefly to these rather than to children, husband and family.

Also Quadragesimo Anno (Pope Pius XI, 1931):

Mothers, concentrating on household duties, should work primarily in the home or in its immediate vicinity. It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father’s low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children. Every effort must therefore be made that fathers of families receive a wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs adequately.

And Divini Redemptoris (Pope Pius XI, 1937):

Communism is particularly characterized by the rejection of any link that binds woman to the family and the home, and her emancipation is proclaimed as a basic principle. She is withdrawn from the family and the care of her children, to be thrust instead into public life and collective production under the same conditions as man. The care of home and children then devolves upon the collectivity. Finally, the right of education is denied to parents, for it is conceived as the exclusive prerogative of the community, in whose name and by whose mandate alone parents may exercise this right.

One could read this as Pope Pius XI stating that the core principle is that wives and mothers cannot neglect their duties as wives and mothers, and that prudentially, this was best accomplished by women remaining in the home. But must this prudential decision must always be so? Well, that is for the Church to decide, and we start to see a new direction emerging as the Church takes on the issue of human dignity.


Pacem in Terris (Pope St. John XXIII, 1963):

Women must be accorded such conditions of work as are consistent with their needs and responsibilities as wives and mothers.

Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

Gaudium et Spes (Vatican II, 1965):

The children, especially the younger among them, need the care of their mother at home. This domestic role of hers must be safely preserved, though the legitimate social progress of women should not be underrated on that account.

It is now possible to free most of humanity from the misery of ignorance. Therefore the duty most consonant with our times, especially for Christians, is that of working diligently for fundamental decisions to be taken in economic and political affairs, both on the national and international level which will everywhere recognize and satisfy the right of all to a human and social culture in conformity with the dignity of the human person without any discrimination of race, sex, nation, religion or social condition. Therefore it is necessary to provide all with a sufficient quantity of cultural benefits, especially of those which constitute the so-called fundamental culture lest very many be prevented from cooperating in the promotion of the common good in a truly human manner because of illiteracy and a lack of responsible activity.

Women now work in almost all spheres. It is fitting that they are able to assume their proper role in accordance with their own nature. It will belong to all to acknowledge and favor the proper and necessary participation of women in the cultural life.

Pope St. Paul VI, in a letter regarding the “International Women’s Year” echoed some of the former (1975):

Thus it is that, in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII hailed as a “sign of the times" the fast that “women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity…they are demanding both in domestic and public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons” [AAS 55(1963), pp. 267-268). At the same time, the Second Vatican Council, recognizing the solidarity of the whole Church with "the joys and hopes, the sadnesses and anxieties” of the modern world, hastened to condemn the injustices of a discrimination based on sex and to vindicate for women, with reverence for their rights and duties in accordance with their own specific aptitudes, a responsible and fuller share in the whole of the life of society (cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 29 and 60).


In Laborem Exercens, Pope St. John Paul II wrote (1981):

However, if one studies the development of the question of social justice, one cannot fail to note that, whereas during the period between Rerum Novarum and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno the Church’s teaching concentrates mainly on the just solution of the “labour question” within individual nations, in the next period the Church’s teaching widens its horizon to take in the whole world.

This trend of development of the Church’s teaching and commitment in the social question exactly corresponds to the objective recognition of the state of affairs. While in the past the “class” question was especially highlighted as the centre of this issue, in more recent times it is the “world” question that is emphasized. Thus, not only the sphere of class is taken into consideration but also the world sphere of inequality and injustice, and as a consequence, not only the class dimension but also the world dimension of the tasks involved in the path towards the achievement of justice in the modern world.

So Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno should be read through the lens of Laborem Exercens and the entire Magisterium, which has opened its focus considerably since the publication of those aforementioned first two encyclicals.

As Pope St. John Paul II said in the same encyclical regarding Rerum Novarum:

The present reflections on work are not intended to follow a different line, but rather to be in organic connection with the whole tradition of this teaching and activity. At the same time, however, I am making them, according to the indication in the Gospel, in order to bring out from the heritage of the Gospel “what is new and what is old”. Certainly, work is part of “what is old”- as old as man and his life on earth. Nevertheless, the general situation of man in the modern world, studied and analyzed in its various aspects of geography, culture and civilization, calls for the discovery of the new meanings of human work. It likewise calls for the formulation of the new tasks that in this sector face each individual, the family, each country, the whole human race, and, finally, the Church herself.


It is a fact that in many societies women work in nearly every sector of life. But it is fitting that they should be able to fulfil their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society. The true advancement of women requires that labour should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role.

[don’t have permission to post beyond 3 posts in this thread at the moment, if someone replies to my posts I can finish this further]

It’s also worth noting that the working woman back then and now are very different. Technology really saved us a lot of time. Now you don’t really need to stay at home to make sure the house is clean or cook a meal (for most).

With all the talk about moms and jobs, it’s interesting how very little is said for fathers. It was unfortunately expected that dad’s role in day-to-day caretaking was minimal, and some people have argued that fathers should take two jobs before mothers take one (as if kids don’t need face time with dad). A lot of focus is on whether the jobs are structured in a way that’s beneficial for moms, but somehow that implies that it’s already structured well for dads?

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Since you responded, I should be able to resume my post.


In Familiaris Consortio (Pope St. John Paul II, 1981)

Without intending to deal with all the various aspects of the vast and complex theme of the relationships between women and society, and limiting these remarks to a few essential points, one cannot but observe that in the specific area of family life a widespread social and cultural tradition has considered women’s role to be exclusively that of wife and mother, without adequate access to public functions which have generally been reserved for men.

There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justifies women’s access to public functions. On the other hand the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.

But clearly all of this does not mean for women a renunciation of their femininity or an imitation of the male role, but the fullness of true feminine humanity which should be expressed in their activity, whether in the family or outside of it, without disregarding the differences of customs and cultures in this sphere.

In a message for “World Communications Day,” Pope St. John Paul II writes (1996):

First, as I noted in my Letter, motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to those women who have chosen to be wives and mothers (cf. No. 4). It is certainly an injustice that such women should be discriminated against, economically or socially, precisely for following that fundamental vocation. Likewise I pointed out that there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancement, equality of spouses with regard to family rights, and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State (cf. No. 4).

Secondly, the advancement of women’s genuine emancipation is a matter of justice, which can no longer be overlooked; it is also a question of society’s welfare. Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that women must be enabled to play their part in the solution of the serious problems of society and of society’s future. In every area, “a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love’” (ibid., No. 4).

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